Clinton Urges Web Freedom January 22, 2010Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Essays, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, YouTube.
Tags: censorship, China, Clinton, freedom, Google, human rights, Internet, net neutrality, Newseum
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Boo China, yay Web neutrality! Fasten your belts for the “next great global battle of ideas!” Depending on which side of the great firewall you’re on, the “iconic infrastructure of our age” will be the site for a cyber showdown.
And that’s to ensure that the Web remains “a tool of openness, opportunity, expression, and possibility rather than of one of control, surveillance, suppression.”
American State Secretary Hillary Clinton underlined that reality when she called for an unfettered Internet and delivered a tongue lashing to China in an impassioned policy speech at the Newseum journalism museum in Washington.
We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship.
We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them in local languages, and with the training they need to access the internet safely.
Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State
That America’s top diplomat champions “freedom to connect” as a basic human right is a huge stake, especially when the US State Department is funding the development of tools to help Web users circumvent government censorship online.
Poised to be the Web’s first diplomat, Hillary Clinton has jumped right into the fray of the Google vs China spat, calling Web curbs the modern equivalent of the Berlin Wall and warning of a new information curtain descending on the world.
It’s fascinating how Google’s corporate move has turned into an international incident. Web freedom has joined trade imbalances, currency values, human rights and Tibet among the quarrels straining ties between the world’s biggest and third-biggest economies.
Clinton’s call for global condemnation of those who conduct cyber attacks is an important opportunity to counter governments who want to censor and conduct surveillance on individuals. The challenge is how the State Department will walk the talk by incorporating Web freedom into diplomacy, trade policy, and meaningful pressure on companies to act responsibly.
The speech is a huge stake in net neutrality and its meaning cannot be overstated. The Web was born and nurtured in America, with input from other countries. Now a top US official and arguably the most prominent female political figure is seeking to shape the Web’s evolving ethos and guiding principles.
In parts of the Middle East, women are beaten and killed in “honor” beatings by relatives who find out they are using sites like Twitter and Facebook. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are among countries that censor the Web or harass bloggers. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in China.
Early in her primary campaign, Clinton was considered less Web-savvy than Barack Obama and online attack ad that spread on YouTube foreshadowed the narrative of her fight for the Democratic nomination, portraying Clinton as the old PC and Obama as the shiny new Mac.
The YouTube video, which mashes up Apple’s 1984 ad with Hillary Clinton’s own campaign imagery.
Clinton is now leading the way within the Obama administration in recognizing the transformational opportunities of the Internet. Speaking in broad strokes and finer details, she outlined what she called the five key freedoms of the Internet age: Freedom to connect online anywhere. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from fear of cyber attacks.
Of course that didn’t sit well with the “What Internet censorship?” crowd on the other side of the planet. There’s an argument that the technical architecture of the Web is different from the values of people who use it. If parents can limit what teenagers can see, then governments can limit what citizens see. If citizens can circumvent governments, teenagers will be able to circumvent parents.
But we’re talking about a generation of citizens who have never typed the words “Falun Gong,” “Dalai Lama,” or “Tiananmen Square massacre” into their search engines. Information openness for them is just a crack in a dark room without electricity.
The blowback against Google’s announcement that it was hacked by Chinese cyber agents – and in response would be lifting the restrictions that keep users of its Chinese search engine in the dark – has been fascinating. Clinton upped the ante by calling for global Internet freedom.
When Google threw down the gauntlet to China’s Web censors, it also challenged the loyalties of the nation’s wired generation. Tech-savvy Chinese in their 20s and 30s grew up in greater affluence and openness than their parents. Many are pulled between patriotic pride and a yearning for more say over their own lives.
The Google dispute may become a telling test of how China’s wired generation balance loyalties to their country with their desire for free expression and access to information, and this response could shape how Beijing handles the dispute.
The Obama administration has shown it wants to court this emerging generation of connected Chinese. China’s latest survey of Web use found 60 percent of the nation’s online population of 384 million was aged 10 to 29.
Despite censorship, China’s Internet can be a potent public forum, with bloggers and amorphous online groups hectoring the government over pollution and corruption. Last year, the government abruptly abandoned a plan to force all new personal computers to come with a copy of “Green Dam” Internet-filtering software that had been derided by online critics as intrusive and ineffective.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are Tools for Diplomacy.
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